Going South, by Roger Poppen
You are at the same time cocooned and vulnerable, like an astronaut encased in that bulbous white spacesuit, floating miles above the horizon. You, earthbound, are clothed in a protective riding jacket and pants, thick-soled boots, a full-face helmet. You pull on padded gloves, straddle the motorcycle, start the engine. You’re ready to roll.
Down the driveway and into the streets of your home town, deserted at this early hour. The street leads to a road that leads to the interstate, the ‘slab,’ heading south. You prefer twisting country roads, but for this trip the destination is more important than the journey.
Stars in the sky, and headlights, and orange box-lights on the semis click off as daylight emerges. A blue shadow juts out to your right, a tall, hunched figure on elongated wheels keeping pace. Exhaust fumes assail your nostrils, the wind roars like a distant ocean. Inside the helmet you can hear yourself breathe. You are alive.
A van rushes past going about eighty and you tuck in behind. If the highway patrol is lurking, it’s good to have someone in front. You settle into the groove, scanning ahead and to the sides, checking your mirrors, absorbed in the moment. No time for reminiscing about the past or plotting the future. A motorcycle is a zen machine: be here now.
But the past is here, nibbling at the corners of consciousness, peeking out from scenes along the roadway you’ve ridden many times. With her. Sitting behind you, clasping her knees and arms around you. Then afterwards, face to face, naked, vulnerable.
The air warms as the sun ascends and the miles unreel southward. She always hated cold weather. One reason, among many, you broke up.
You find yourself alone in the left lane, whizzing past tortoise-like trucks. The speedometer reads ninety-five. Alarmed, you slow to the pace of other traffic. You have plenty of time to get to your dinner date, five hundred miles down the road. Dinner and what else? Will she invite you to her apartment afterwards? Her e-mail said nothing about staying overnight but you read the possibility. It will be up to you to make the first move as you did those many years ago, her reluctant, then acquiescent, then all-enveloping. Like a spider with its prey.
The highway ahead tapers to a vanishing point. You take the next exit and stop. Removing a map from the tank bag, you plot a course on little winding roads that lead back north. Back to your wife.
Roger Poppen took up creative writing after retiring as a professor of behavior analysis. He finds making up people more soothing than dealing with real ones. He has published one novel, Mister Lucky, and several shorter works in online literary magazines. You may read more of his work at his website.
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Tags: relationships, roger poppen